I know, I know—I said I’d set up a routine, and then, just as it may have seemed I was about to start posting a bunch, I disappeared from the face of the blogosphere.
Well, here’s what was up: finding myself with forty more hours per week turned out to be something like rolling up the shades and looking directly at the Sun. Suddenly perceiving myself to have all the time in the world to achieve all my goals, I was momentarily blinded by the intense light of near-total intellectual freedom.
So I’ve spent more than I hoped of the last two weeks flailing as my dilated intellectual pupils worked to adjust to the brightness. I picked things up and put them down, trying to find the right project out of all the enticing things I cared about.
Happily, my eyes have finally begun to adjust. It’s been a time of introspection (which isn’t great for producing content about things other than my own life, but hey, I guess this was a unique time worth recording and sharing), and I’ve recognized many things:
- It’s okay to not clean everything up! Previously, I had a “good” habit of doing some chores before I started working. Now, however, the good, responsible course of action is to let the bed be unmade and ignore the half-drunk glasses of water sitting about while I work on other things. “Good” habits can become distractions or even procrastination.
- I have reconfirmed that I am definitely a tea person, not a coffee person. I had one cup of hazelnut coffee on Monday at 9:30 and lost a whole afternoon to caffeine jitteriness that I think caused my heart to race when I exercised. Actually, I’m trying to stay away from caffeine entirely. Strong motivation is more effective! (Though admittedly not always at hand.)
- Writing really works better for me first thing in the morning. I started today at 7:15, after false starts at reading and meditation. (I have too many ideas in the morning to meditate!) Yesterday I went swimming early in the day and then wrote; I had tons of ideas while I was swimming, but the actual writing (starting around 11) went poorly. Reading before writing has historically prompted the ten o’clock magic, but I need to be reading the right thing.
- Having a desk set up ergonomically is still important even if you can get up an take a walk in the middle of the day. But looking for ergonomic kneeling chairs can wait until after you finish your deep thinking; for the time being, just move the laptop to a different table.
- I’ll never ever ever ever be caught up with email ever, so maybe I can just learn to accept that.
- Calliope thinks I’m staying home so I can take her for walks in the hallway. I’m struggling with whether to respond to the meows or ignore them.
And so on and so forth. That’s much of what I’ve been working out over the past two weeks. But amidst all the practical routine setting, I’ve internalized two larger truths: things I understood intellectually before, but have now grasped more deeply through living them.
First, forty hours as week may give me all the time in the world, but as it turns out, all the time in the world is still not enough to do all the projects in my mind. And definitely not all at once! This realization feels deeply profound to me but translates poorly into a blog entry, because it sounds so obvious. Yes, I would have told you that I understood this before, as I’m sure you already do. But living it drives that understanding deeper.
What use might this revelation be to everyone but me and the likes of Tama Kieves (the power lawyer who pulled the same quit-my-day-job-to-write stunt that I did)? Truly, I can’t say; it’s up to you to decide that. But here on the other side, I can tell you fellow multipotentialites that there really is only so much time, even if you have virtually all of it to pursue your project(s).
Second, big projects take a lot of time. Yes, I know, another “duh!” moment that only becomes profound when you live it. But I’ve realized that small projects are nice ways to play with ideas and make connections and revelations, so I have to have at least a few complementary ones to thrive, but the real reason I am going full-time with this endeavor is so that I can do the big things—the projects that require me to go deep. This, after all, is presumably what knowledge workers are ideally supposed to do at their nine-to-fives anyway: go deep into their area of expertise. And if it’s the right calling for them, then it probably works pretty well.
The habits I’d formed as someone who only does projects on weekend mornings (not much of value ever came from evening hours) meant I’d been thinking small. I never had time for big projects before, so I settled for lots of little ones. I had big ideas, but I rarely even tried to implement them, knowing the constraints on my existence.
So here’s the most striking thing that’s happened to me: given space and control, I find my priorities becoming clear to me. I was able to say, “Okay, I’m going to work on this long term demanding project now. This project is the right one for right now, so I am at peace with putting those others aside.”
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m still interested in all the things. And I’ve always been vaguely aware that I would fail unless I prioritized. The magic is that now that I’m answerable to no one but myself, this becomes truly salient. I suspect that it’s because I’m working to my goal, so there’s no feeling that externally imposed goals must take priority over all of mine, even as I cling to all of them because I lack the mental space to even begin to sort them out and choose among them. I reiterate what I said back in April: having real agency gives your executive function a chance to power up. (Indeed, it has to strengthen, or else you’ll fail.)
The newfound space for depth has been disorienting because it’s transformative. I realize that I can only do one big project at a time, with carefully selected complementary projects to promote insight and avoid ruts. I want to dive deep into something and have a real, valuable product to show for it: something I couldn’t have done through a series of Saturday and Sunday mornings.
So my mind’s eye adjusted to the brightness, the things I really wanted to dive deeply into not only became clear, but lined themselves up—first this, and then later I’ll give that other interest its own dive. Essentially, this path is that of what multipotentialite coach Barbara Sher calls the serial specialist. It’s no surprise that in her book Refuse to Choose she lists “writer” as one of the top careers for such a person.
On that note, I’ve begun to bore myself with this introspection. Time to start the day’s work on my priority projects! And while you won’t see the results of those here anytime soon, those complementary small ones are likely to start bubbling up to the surface before long.
(Just as soon as I take Calliope for her walk, that is.)
Image credits: Kanenori, calimiel, congerdesign, sasint, skeeze, and 12019 from Pixabay, and a cat photo that I took myself.